Interpolation: A few thoughts on beginning to read Infinite Jest again for the third time

Dear Dave,

I’ve been here before.  A number of times, in fact.

Page 27 of Infinite Jest.  The end of the first “Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment” installment, the ten-page narrative of the nameless male character waiting for a nameless female character to either call or show up at his door with 200mg of dope so he can have one more binge weekend before he gives it up for good.[1]

Each time I’ve started IJ – at least three times now – I get to this point.  Sometimes I get further, as far as about page 70 on one occasion.  Then, due to unforeseen circumstances, mostly outside of my control, I slow my reading.  I get busy with other things.  I forget to bring my book with me when I have a doctor’s appointment.  Then I forget what’s happening and have to go back and reread a chapter or two, and then I only make a few pages progress.  Then I put it down on the end table when it sits.  And sits.  And then – usually when we’re expecting company – it ends up back on the shelf where it stares longingly at me, patiently waiting for me to pick it up again.

So I picked it up again.  I started page 1 again.[2]  “I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies.”  And I’m off once again, reliving the moment Hal Incandenza goes bat-crap crazy during his University of Arizona admissions interview.  I’m left wondering what brought him to this point and what is in store for him after this point.[3]

Then it’s on to the pothead.  Slogging through those ten pages of nervous anxiety – and that’s before he’s had any dope – only to have him left frozen by the simultaneous ringing of the door buzzer and the telephone.

And here I am again.  Page 27.  Only 1052 pages to go.  The summer ahead of me.  A couple practice runs under my belt.  A little more determination this time.

It’s gonna happen.  So help me, it’s gonna happen.

[1] I intend to write a separate Letter on this chapter later this week.  But I’m sure this chapter that has had me searching the medicine cabinet for Xanax while reading the anxiety-inducing narrative about the obsessive dope addict anxiously anticipating his “final” binge has had nothing to do with my stopping reading the book shortly thereafter.

[2] I practically have the whole first chapter memorized.

[3] Being a part of the Wallace fan community for two and a half years, I feel like I know the answers to those questions.  But I have yet to read far enough to discover the answers for myself.


4 thoughts on “Interpolation: A few thoughts on beginning to read Infinite Jest again for the third time

  1. I wasn’t able to get through it until my third try, and then mostly because of the Infinite Summer group. It was helpful for two reasons: (1) there was a fixed schedule that I needed to stick to, which made me get through some of the slower sections, and (2) there was a huge group of people also reading it and commenting on it at the same time which helped keep me accountable (I wanted to make sure I could be part of the current conversation). You can do it, but it definitely takes a commitment. Make sure you keep coming back.

  2. Hey Ryan,
    That is the worst part of the book for me. As in, hardest to read. It’s very tedious. I tend to just skim it. I wrote a dissertation chapter and a fancy article on the book–all on COMPULSIVE BEHAVIOR–and I haven’t brought myself to re-read that part. Ever.

  3. I wouldn’t say I liked that section, exactly, but it is one that’s stayed with me and seems important in my own personal version of the book.

    I read the whole thing straight through first time out of sheer stubbornness.

  4. I’d say that the trick the first time is to not to keep re-starting but just take up where you left of each time. If you can’t remember what came before that’s what the second read-through is for. The other reason that at about p. 150-200 you’ll start enjoy reading it…

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